Football: Wiseman's FA exit signals scramble for a successor

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KEITH WISEMAN did not go quietly when he finally quit as chairman of the Football Association yesterday but his final denials of wrong-doing were swiftly drowned out by the manifestoes for change being issued by his potential successors.

Wiseman had spoken for an hour at the FA Council's meeting at Centre Point, central London, before accepting he would not sway the popular mood baying for his head. His resignation follows the exposure of a pounds 3.2m payment offered to the Football Association of Wales in return for its vote in the game's chambers of power.

The attention swiftly moved to a Lancaster Gate hotel where three putative successors were gathered to inter the Southampton coroner's career in football politics. They were there to bury Wiseman, not to praise him, and there was talk of a "new dawn", the game "moving forward" and "unity".

Behind the smiles, however, Geoff Thompson, the acting chairman until an election is held in June, David Sheepshanks and David Richards were plotting their campaigns. None have formally announced their intention to stand - only Ken Bates, the Chelsea chairman has declared himself - and there will be much horse-trading before nominations close in May, but all have an eye on the prize.

Before the election, Thompson and David Davies, the acting chief executive, will be going to Fifa, Uefa and Scottish and Northern Irish FA's to "apologise" for the FA's recent conduct in its pursuit of the 2006 World Cup. "Bridges need to be built", Thompson said. Davies added: "Lessons need to be learned" in respect of the World Cup bid.

The pair will also try to implement change to the Council itself on the back of a working party report into restructuring the FA which is to be published later this month. Should they succeed in this difficult task, they may end up working together permanently.

Thompson, who seems certain to be the candidate of choice for the amateur game, will first have to fight off the challenge from within the professional ranks. That will come from Sheepshanks or Richards. The latter has the Premiership's support, the former is more likely to win an election.

Bates, the outsider, chose not to speak to the media yesterday, leaving Centre Point by the back door. It is understood he played only a minimal part in the council meeting.

Davies, meanwhile, is yet to declare himself a candidate for the chief executive's position, which is unlikely to be filled before June. However, his talk of "vision" and "unity" was not out of place among the preliminary campaigning.

Wiseman left with a sop, the council unanimously recording, in his words, that they "wish to make it clear that no aspersions have been cast on my integrity or honesty". As a coroner by trade that was important to him, though it begged the question as to why he had been forced to resign.

Thompson said it was because of two "grave errors" of judgement, first in agreeing the deal with the Welsh (part of a failed attempt to gain a seat on world body Fifa's executive), and secondly in not passing it through the relevant FA committee.

Wiseman, who will retain his position on the board at Southampton, will not be lamented. A compromise choice when elected in the summer of 1996, he managed to alienate both professional and amateur sides of the game. He was said by Davies to have told the council he was "sorry" but there was no mention of an apology in his statement.

Whether his successor will fare any better depends whether the reforms, promoted by Durham's Frank Pattison, succeed. "We are endeavouring to streamline the board [which has 90 members] while retaining its broad base," he said.

Pattison chastised Bates for his recent pronouncements in the press, which have included criticism of England coach Glenn Hoddle and other FA staff.

"Some of these were unfortunate for a director of a company," the 62- year-old solicitor said. "Some of the comments attributed to him would be a masterpiece in demotivation of staff."

A six-month election campaign to stretch yesterday's "unity" now seems inevitable. This was illustrated when the group were asked what abilities the new chairman would require. Thompson said: "Integrity, leadership, vision, an ability to understand the whole of the game and convince the council of the need for change." Sheepshanks, the businessman, agreed, but added "business management skills".

Not mentioned were an astute political antenna, patience, luck, a thick skin and eyes in the back of your head - to see the knives being sharpened.

WHO WILL BE NEXT FA CHAIRMAN?

David Sheepshanks

Ipswich chairman, aged 46

Impressed with stewardship of the Football League where he recently stepped down as chairman. Well-groomed, ambitious and smart. The favourite.

Geoff Thompson

Sheffield & Hallamshire FA, 53

Yorkshire magistrate and barrister. Failed in attempt to become chairman in 1996 but will hold position until June election. Prominent representative of the FA Council's bedrock, the county FAs. Second favourite.

David Richards

Sheffield Wednesday chairman, 55

Preferred choice of the Premier League three years ago, he finished third behind Wiseman and Thompson, having failed to attract votes from elsewhere.

Ken Bates

Chelsea chairman, 67

Already campaigning via the tabloid press. Long, controversial and ultimately successful stewardship at Stamford Bridge. Would attempt radical change. Rank outsider.

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